One of the country's (if not the world's) top small museums is this remarkable and gracious place, the jewel in Cowtown's crown. In 1972, the great American architect Louis Kahn created perhaps his finest building to house the art collection of local philanthropist Kay Kimbell. His modern, natural concrete structure, a masterpiece of light, symmetry, and geometry, is a reference work in worldwide architectural studies. Its cycloid-shaped vaults are suffused with natural light entering discreetly through slatted skylights. The building is essentially a shell; it has no real interior walls, which allows curators total creativity to use movable walls to design exhibits. The TV art evangelist Sister Wendy Beckett calls the Kimbell "probably the nearest such an institution can come to perfection . . . one of the greatest achievements in the world." It is widely held to be the greatest museum building of the late 20th century. The museum is undergoing an audacious but respectful expansion (physically separate from the Kahn building, which will house the permanent collection) by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Rienzo Piano, to be completed in 2013.
The permanent collection matches the grace and drama of the building. Though small, it contains several superlative works, ranging from prehistoric Asian and pre-Columbian pieces to European old masters (Velázquez, El Greco, Rubens, Rembrandt) and the Impressionist and modern masters (van Gogh, Monet, Cézanne, and Picasso). Outdoors is a Zen-like, sunken sculpture garden by Isamu Noguchi. With its reputation as such an outstanding place to display and view art, the Kimbell receives some of the finest national and international shows that virtually every top-notch museum vies for. Past major exhibits have included "Portraiture in the Age of Picasso" and "Gauguin and Impressionism." Depending upon your interest in and the popularity of the current itinerant special exhibit, you might plan to spend a good 3 to 4 hours here.